Warming up for another season of creative freedom at WMPAC

“I’d love it if every single person in Big Sky comes to at least one show." John Zirkle, WMPAC Director

Lounging on a turquoise sofa in the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center greenroom, WMPAC Director John Zirkle takes some time to reflect upon the seasons that have come and gone, looking forward to the next one just around the corner.

Unlike what some may expect from an arts center dedicated to world-renowned ski filmmaker Warren Miller, WMPAC does not specialize in ski cinema. But that doesn’t mean Miller’s legacy doesn’t shine through during each performance. As Zirkle reminisces about past performances and future shows, he revisits the words of advice Miller passed along to him as the vision for WMPAC took shape.

“‘Every man’s intuition is his constant search for freedom’ is something Warren told me that really resounded,” Zirkle said. “We should be seeking freedom within the arts. That’s why we do these crazy things here. And I think this season we’ve really seen this come to fruition. I thought, can I program a season of performances without a guitar on stage? We want to do more than that—working with movement, words. I’m always pulled back to Warren’s vision— the performing arts are absolutely for freedom of spirit—it’s that freedom that connects everyone here in
Big Sky.”

Between 2011 and 2013, Miller and Zirkle met often to discuss what WMPAC could offer the community. During that time Miller passed along another grain of insight. “Warren told me, ‘People can get on stage here and create a whole lot better than if they’re living in a half-bedroom apartment somewhere in Manhattan,’” Zirkle said. “He posed a challenge to me— that anything you can do in a large city, you can do in a ski town. And I think Warren is right, we can do it better.”

Going into WMPAC’s first season in December 2013, Zirkle and his team expected to welcome mostly destination tourists visiting Big Sky for the week hoping to take in a show. And they did see some of those folks. But surprisingly, Zirkle found that full-time Big Sky residents made up 60 percent of the audience. 

“Which is amazing,” said Zirkle. “There wasn’t a performing arts center before, and it’s become a thing people expect and enjoy. It’s nice to see people at intermission talking about not just the show, but sometimes even more about the local issues at the time. It’s a great microcosm for the community.”

Big Sky resident Garon the Fabulous has attended “nearly 35” shows at the WMPAC, and said he’s never been to a show he didn’t like. “I know John doesn’t put anything on stage that isn’t amazing,” Fabulous said. “Even if it’s Shakespeare, and I’m not into Shakespeare, I’ll go because I know it’ll be great. I’ll go to shows not knowing what they’re about, but I know I am excited to see them.”

Fabulous noted that attending WMPAC performances has been an opportunity for him to connect with his neighbors. 

“WMPAC really brings the community together,” he said. “It’s fun to see local people who might not really go to shows but attend them at WMPAC because ticket prices are affordable, and it’s great to see people I might not see often around town, like busy families, but I see them all at WMPAC.”

Looking forward, Zirkle hopes WMPAC becomes a place where artists from around the country can come back year after year to perform and even create new works. He’s seen that take shape with return performances by the James Sewell Ballet.

As for original works coming straight out of WMPAC, Zirkle is excited to bring Levity, “the craziest project we’ve ever done,” to the stage in January 2018. The original Broadway play was envisioned by Director Stella Powell-Jones alongside Broadway actors during the first Big Sky Theater Workshop at WMPAC in July 2015. The show was a success during its test run for a Big Sky audience, and after becoming an “equity certified” performing house, WMPAC now has the ability to not only develop but to debut new professional theater. 

“It all goes back to the idea of freedom,” Zirkle said. “I want amazing artists to draw work out of the soil here. I want national and international performers to come out and create. For people with hectic lives living in big cities, we can provide valuable respite that hopefully generates work that can be appreciated both locally and nationally.”

In the coming weeks, the Lookout will showcase this season’s nine WMPAC performances. To purchase tickets or learn more about the shows, visit http://warrenmillerpac.org. Tickets range from approximately $20 to $80 depending on the show and seating preference. 

“I’d love it if every single person in Big Sky comes to at least one show,” said Zirkle. 

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Lone Peak Lookout

Cori Koenig, editor: editor@lonepeaklookout.com
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